Saturday, February 25, 2012
When I initially entered academia, the possibility of publishing something other than a full-length law review article seemed distant, if not downright dangerous. Publish or perish and all the rest of it. Yadda yadda yadda. As I began, however, to see the broader view of what publishing really is about -- disseminating ideas, participating in a conversation -- I also warmed up to putting out shorter pieces. Writing in a more abbreviated format offers a number of benefits: It forces you to sharpen your thoughts. It can serve as an additional outlet for your ideas. It reaches further audiences. And, let's face it, more people might be willing to read a 2-page magazine piece or a 500-word op-ed than a full-length law review article. So, as my thinking on how I want to contribute to the conversation about energy and environmental law and policy evolves, I am increasingly inclined to consider publishing in what, for law professors, might be considered non-traditional outlets.
To that end, here is one opportunity that has come up for publishing a non-law review article:
ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
April 2012 Energy Committees Newsletter
The Energy Committees of the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources are now accepting articles for the April edition of the committees’ e-newsletter. Articles may be on any current energy law or policy topic and should be roughly 1500 words, with in-text citations (no footnotes).
Articles are due Friday, April 6th to Adam Sherwin, Vice Chair of the Energy Infrastructure and Siting Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org). Those interested in submitting an article are encouraged to contact Adam prior to the submission deadline.
In addition to submissions by lawyers, articles from law students and non-attorney energy professionals are welcome.
Past newsletters may be found at: http://www.americanbar.org/content/newsletter/publications/nr_newsletters/energy_newsletter.html
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in the first of two important environmental cases on its docket this term: PPL Montana v. State of Montana. (The Court has yet to issue its decision in the other, Sackett v. EPA.)
In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the Court declared in PPL Montana that the Montana Supreme Court erred in finding three rivers navigable for title purposes. Sifting through Justice Kennedy’s citations to the journals of Lewis and Clark, centuries-old newspaper reports, and countless other obscure secondary sources (many of which were not even in the record), the opinion can be summarized so: If commercial travelers had to portage around a segment of a river at the time of statehood, title to that segment is not held by the state unless the segment was so short that it lacked commercial value. The likes of Rick Frank at Legal Planet and Tom Merrill at SCOTUSblog already have provided thought-provoking analysis of this conclusion by the Court.
There is at least one noteworthy (though not necessarily surprising) omission in Justice Kennedy’s opinion: despite the pleadings of PPL Montana and several amici, the Court did not use the case to expound upon its musings on judicial takings theory set out in its splintered 2010 Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection decision. Readers may recall that in Stop the Beach, a 4-2-2 split (with Justice Stevens recused) left open the question of whether judicial interpretations of property law can, like actions of the political branches, amount to unconstitutional takings of property. In short, Justice Scalia’s plurality opinion said “yes” (if a court declares that an “established” property right “no longer exists”); Justice Kennedy, joined by Justice Sotomayor, said “probably not” since the Due Process Clause is well-equipped to address rogue judicial interpretations; and Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, said “very likely not” but the question need not be decided here. However, these ruminations on judicial takings theory proved completely irrelevant in the case at hand, for the Court unanimously affirmed the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion that no taking had occurred.
Taking a cue from the Stop the Beach plurality, PPL Montana had suggested that the Montana Supreme Court was the “operative force” behind a “land grab” of privately-owned riverbeds, such that the decision itself could be violative of the Takings Clause. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately did not address this assertion. Still, Justice Kennedy’s opinion in PPL Montana could be viewed as the continuation of a disturbing trend promoted by the Court in Stop the Beach: it represents an implicit, wide-ranging distrust of state courts and a disregard for the principle that property rights are generally determined with reference to state law.
Since its release in June of 2010, it appears that at least six lower federal courts have cited Stop the Beach for the principle that property interests are defined by state law for federal takings purposes. This is somewhat ironic, for all eight participating Justices in Stop the Beach arguably can be criticized for conducting an independent review of Florida state law. They all said property rights are defined by state law, yet showed no level of deference to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision doing just that—defining state property rights. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Florida Supreme Court’s decision only on reasoning set forth in a 1927 Florida case to which the Florida Supreme Court had not even cited. This approach, however, did not come as a total surprise—as Laura Underkuffler has noted, in the fifteen important U.S. Supreme Court takings opinions since 1987, only three actually interpreted property rights in terms of state law.
The PPL Montana Court arguably can be criticized in the same way. For instance, while the Court stressed that the “public trust doctrine remains a matter of state law,” it offered its own, very narrow explanation of the doctrine: “the public trust doctrine…concerns public access to the waters above [the relevant riverbeds] for purposes of navigation, fishing, and other recreational uses.” The lack of deference to the Montana courts was also evident in Justice Kennedy’s assertion that, “contrary to the Montana Supreme Court’s decision,” at least one specific stretch of one of the Montana rivers at issue—the 17-mile Great Falls stretch—“is not navigable for purposes of riverbed title.” As Tom Merrill notes, “Ordinarily, when the Court reviews a decision of a state supreme court, it will correct errors in federal law, and remand for application of the correct legal principles [here, application of the correct navigability-for-title test] by the state courts. … But the statement about Great Falls admits only one action on remand.”
Stop the Beach is arguably a poor case for lower federal courts to cite as demonstrative of deference to state courts or for the principle that property interests are determined with reference to state law, though PPL Montana does not seem far behind.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Tomorrow, I am going off the grid for the first time in a long time. No matter where I've been in the world over the last several years, I've generally had easy access to the internet. In fact, in the aftermath of 9-11, I was emailing people from China for a friend in DC to give updates on her wedding plans because cell phone and internet access were hard there for a while.
But I'm in that cusp generation who grew up without being constantly wired. I first used email between college and law school. I got my first cell phone when I moved to LA after law school (because who could be in LA without a cell phone).
Perhaps because of that, I tend not to be a first adopter on gadgets. It took me a while to see the logic of the ipod, and now I can't imagine taking my daily walks without my books on tape on it (I just loaded up for the trip on some new not-so-intellectual novels). I finally got a kindle a few weeks ago and I find myself reading more again because I can have so many different kinds of books with me in my purse for those five minute gaps that are too short for pulling out my computer.
As an environmentalist, I struggle with my personal relationship to technology. On the one hand, I push people to use it and stop sending those brochures and reprints. It seems like the extra energy used by people getting these things electronically is likely less wasteful than the trees cut down for unsolicited announcements of lectures and books that often aren't in an area that I write or teach in. Or at a simpler level, I urge people to use that double-side printing technology that our big multi-function machines have. And constructive technology has been a key part of my work for some time. One of my current research projects on suburbs and climate change is full of examples of cities making technological transitions that use less energy and pay back pretty quickly.
On the other hand, I sometimes fear that my email account filling at a ridiculous rate (sometimes with the emails to follow-up on the emails that I have not yet replied to because I get 100s behind whenever I stop to write) and the constant bombardment makes it much harder for me to carve out the quiet time to actually think. I am excited by the new energy technologies that are crtiical to our making a needed transition even as I fear the intensive scientific focusing on reversing climate change through geoengineering without any clear governance structure.
And so as I ambivalently mull, I'll head off to Northern Minnesota for a weekend without cell phone reception or my email, but with my ipod and kindle in tow. It feels a little different than when I was a kid sitting at the top of mountains in Colorado feeling a deep sense of peace and sprituality as I took in the beauty around me, but I know I'll still marvel at the majesty of nature even as I wind down at night perhaps reading one of the teen vampire books I've checked out from the public library which appeared on my kindle thirty seconds later.
Well, another magnificent Mardi Gras has ended, and at this point, I’d normally be slouched on the sofa sipping a tomato juice (neat) and sorting beads. But not this year. That’s because next week, squadrons of lawyers, journalists, petroleum engineers, and fisher folk are scheduled to descend on New Orleans, squeeze into a federal courtroom, and begin on Monday what the media have modestly called, “The Trial of the Century,” otherwise known as the BP Oil Spill litigation.
Whatever the rest of the century holds, it seems fair to say that this legal dispute, if it does not settle, will be the most complicated environmental trial anyone has ever seen. With a thousand plaintiffs, a galaxy of witnesses, and 20,000 exhibits, this spectacular has more moving parts than a Madonna half-time show. As the trial unfolds, I’ll provide you with some occasional shrimp-boots-on-the-ground legal blogging.
First, though, I’ll start with the background of the case (you may also be interested in these CPR white papers: Regulatory Blowout: How Regulatory Failures Made the BP Disaster Possible, and How the System Can Be Fixed to Avoid a Recurrence (Oct 2010) and The BP Catastrophe: When Hobbled Law and Hollow Regulation Leave Americans Unprotected (Jan 2011)). Here are some answers to common questions.
Q: Can you remind me what the BP Oil Spill was all about? I remember “Top Kill” and “I’d like my life back,” but the rest of it is a little hazy.
A: On April 20, 2010 BP and its contractors were in the last stages of drilling a three-mile long hole in the seabed fifty miles off the Louisiana shore. They were in the process of plugging the hole, with plans to later extract oil from the massive reservoir that lay below. The oil rig was called “Deepwater Horizon.” The well was called “Macondo” (yes, the same name as the fictional village in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude—the village that was eventually blown apart by an apocalyptic storm and erased from history. This is what lit teachers call “foreshadowing”).
The project had not gone smoothly, and already operations were a month late and $40 million overdue. At 9:30 that night, the well started burping methane gas. The gas shot up through the pipes, caught fire, and engulfed the rig in flames. Eleven of the 126 people aboard died and many more were injured. Two days later the rig sank and oil began spewing from the wellhead, roughly a mile below the surface. BP applied thousands of gallons of toxic dispersants on and below the surface in an effort to prevent the oil from coming ashore. Even so, the oil severely damaged beaches, estuaries, and marshes, from Texas to Florida. Large swaths of the Gulf were closed to fishing.
As President Obama said two months after the blowout: “Already this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” Earlier, BP’s then-chief executive Tony Hayward invited public vilification when, in an inexplicable burst of self-pity, he whined, “I’d like my life back.” Despite efforts to cap the well (including the so-called “Top Kill” method), oil continued to spew until July 15, 2010 when BP successfully capped the well and later sealed it with cement. According to some estimates, nearly five million barrels of oil billowed into the Gulf before it was capped.
Q: What did later investigations show?
A: We’ve learned quite a bit from media reports, industry incident reports, a presidential commission, an examination by the Coast Guard and the Department of Interior, and a report from the National Academy of Engineering.
Basically, we know that before the blowout BP used cheaper and quicker methods for building the well’s walls, misread important diagnostic tests, and removed the most important protective barrier to methane bursts before it should have. We also know there were problems with a cement mixture that Halliburton had supplied and that employees of Transocean made some bad decisions when they realized the rig was going to blow.
Q: So that explains the lawsuit. Who’s suing?
A: The trial in New Orleans—officially called “Multi-District Litigation-2179” (MDL)—consolidates 535 lawsuits originally filed all over the country. More than 110,000 individuals and businesses have filed notice to take part in the MDL. Plaintiffs include fishers, seafood processors, restaurants, coastal landowners, individuals who were harmed by dispersants or oil, and many others. The litigation also includes claims by the federal government, Gulf Coast states, and a few municipalities. Several states in Mexico have also filed claims. The federal and state (?) government claims generally seek compensation for natural resource damage, response costs, or damage to their economies.
Many of these plaintiffs are at the same time trying to resolve their grievances through BP’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), a $20 billion compensation fund administered by Kenneth Feinberg. Plaintiffs who reach a final settlement with the GCCF waive their claims and must withdraw from the MDL.
This trial does not address shareholder suits (which will be handled in Houston) or criminal charges.
Q: Who are the defendants?
A: The most prominent defendants are BP, which held the lease on the Macondo well; Transocean, which owned Deepwater Horizon; Halliburton, which poured the cement lining into the well; Cameron, which manufactured the blowout-preventer that malfunctioned during the crisis; and Nalco, which manufactured the dispersants that are alleged to have made people sick and to have harmed the environment. In later stages of the litigation, the federal government and some states may be required to defend their actions in overseeing containment of the oil and clean-up operations.
Q: What issues will the court decide?
A: For all its complexity, the goal of the trial is pretty simple: to determine the proportion of fault among the defendant companies and to determine the extent of penalties and damages. These questions will be decided in a bench trial (without a jury) by federal district court judge Carl Barbier. In reaching his decision, he will rely on federal maritime law, the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. (The state law claims have all been dismissed as preempted by federal law.)
The allocation of fault, will, of course, affect the share that each defendant must pay. But that amount also depends on the degree of carelessness the court attributes to the parties. For instance, a finding of gross negligence or willful misconduct could result in punitive damages, driving the verdict from a few billion to more than $20 billion. An award on the higher side could go far in helping a state like Louisiana (which suffered the most damage) to restore its tattered coast and repair its economy. But such an award would almost certainly be appealed.
Q: Tell me more about Judge Barbier.
A: Judge Carl Barbier has served on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana since 1998. He is a Clinton appointee. Judge Barbier was born in New Orleans and holds a law degree from Loyola University New Orleans. He is known for his expertise in maritime law and complex litigation. Over the last year, he has impressed observers with his efficiency and endurance, wrestling hundreds of cases to the ground and consolidating them into this litigation.
Q: How long will this trial take?
A: If it does not settle, it will take more than a year. Judge Barbier has planned the trial to unfold in three phases. The first phase, beginning on Monday, will deal with everything leading up to the explosion and the start of the oil leak. The second phase, scheduled to begin in mid-July, will focus on attempts to stem the flow of oil, inquiring into the crucial question of how much oil was ultimately discharged into the Gulf (a fact that affects the amount of penalties under the Clean Water Act). The third phase, which is not yet scheduled, will deal with the efforts to contain and clean up the oil.
Q: You’ve mentioned settlement twice. Will this case settle soon?
A: Honestly, nobody knows. Many of the traditional experts (experienced trial lawyers and legal scholars) say it should. With such uncertainty about the punitive damages, the argument goes, both sides have strong incentives to find middle ground. Plus, BP cannot be looking forward to seeing its dirty laundry aired out in court. But some local attorneys I’ve spoken to emphasize that individual personalities matter a lot in settlement negotiations and that with so many people involved, negotiations can easily derail.
Q: I missed Mardi Gras this year, should I make plans to visit New Orleans to see the trial instead?
A: No. The courtroom will be completely packed with lawyers and journalists. There is only a small amount of seating available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Everyone else will have to watch the trial on video from “overflow rooms.” My crack research assistant Stephen Wussow will occasionally visit the proceedings and report back. I’ve already warned him to bring lots of water and protein bars.
Q: Did Tony Hayward ever get his life back?
A: Sort of. The former geologist and yachting-enthusiast left BP in October 2010 and now works for Glencore International, a commodities company involved in hardrock mining. Mr. Hayward oversees policy related to environment and safety.
- Rob Verchick
Rob Verchick is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and a research scholar at the Center for Progressive Reform. This entry is cross-posted at CPRBlog.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
I am an environmental law and policy academic, not a climate scientist. But I do believe in the overall integrity of the peer-review academic publishing process, the scientific method, and the corresponding inability of thousands of scientists across the world to coordinate a global conspiracy or hoax on climate change science. So when the Wall Street Journal editorial dismissing climate change emerged in January, I waited eagerly for a credible, climate science colleague-in-arms to make a reasoned explanation of its lack of credibility. Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and president of the Pacific Institute, did just that, along with numerous others. In fact, Gleick has been at the forefront of the battle against climate change misinformation, directly engaging critics making unfounded assertions on a regular basis - a task that I have found quite tiring and emotionally taxing at times. So for that I applaud him.
Even so, last night Gleick admitted that he moved from the forefront of this battle and across enemy lines, in the form of a covert operative adopting - as operatives so often do - the tactics of those he opposes. In short, Gleick used deceit to obtain the now infamous Heartland Institute's internal documents mapping out their climate change denial campaign. As described by Gleick:
At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute's apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.
Given the potential impact, however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.
I will not comment on the substance or implications of the materials; others have and are doing so. I only note that the scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed. My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts -- often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated -- to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.
Peter Gleick's actions have no doubt unearthed some important and useful information about the uphill battle that truth generally, and climate science specifically, faces against ideologues bent on spreading misinformation. Indeed, we do need a "rational public debate" - I would be the first to applaud peer-reviewed, verified scientific research demonstrating that some unforeseen feedback loop will occur over the next 100 years that will unexpectedly mitigate current projections of climate change. But that is an altogether different matter than groups intentionally and purposefully spreading unfounded and baseless information out of political ideology. This is the first wrong.
But the second wrong is Gleick's actions. As with the debate on torture, it is difficult to convince the "opposition" that we are on the side of truth, freedom, and peace if we insist on engaging in the same tactics they use to "achieve" those objectives. Similarly, it is difficult to maintain credibility - or it at least gives the "opposition" a foothold for claiming a lack of credibility - when deception and fraud are used to expose the deceitful and fraudulent tactics of others.
Ultimately, the wrongs here, though exposing the tactics of the extreme right in the climate change "debate," do not provide the correct blueprint for engaging in this battle. Though it is important that the Heartland Institute's tactics are exposed, I am unsettled at how it came about. For other perspectives on both sides of the question see here, here, here, and here. I would, however, be interested in the perspective of others as to when getting to the truth is "worth" a short-term loss of ethical and moral responsibility. Perhaps this is not a situation analogous to torturing enemy combatants to create a world where vicious regimes no longer engage in crimes against humanity (and obviously I am not equating the severity of the crimes here to torture, only highlighting circumstances where we decry the tactics of others while engaging in similar tactics). Perhaps there is a strong case that it is more like telling your spoiled, irresponsible child (as some of these think tanks and presidential candidates [Santorum] seem to be) that you are going out of town until Sunday, only to purposefully crash their unauthorized party on Saturday. But even Gleick acknowledges that his actions did not further the trust and willingness of the climate change fringe to engage in a rational debate, and indeed it likely has done more damage. Is this, however, a small price to pay for larger truths to be advanced a bit further and for steps to be taken toward responsible attempts to avert future global harms? When do two wrongs make a right in the environmental context? In the end, I do not think this was a compelling case for it.
- Blake Hudson
Monday, February 20, 2012
Is the European Union (EU) gently shifting energy law and policy and shaping the future of a climate treaty?
The European Union is steadfast in its commitment to reduce emissions by reducing reliance on traditional fossil fuels. To date it has taken several measures, each of which promises to change the paradigm of energy policy and politics. I have highlighted some recent actions below.
1. An EU law, the legality of which has been confirmed by the Advocate General, imposes a carbon tax on aviation, including international airlines, as part of EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). China has retaliated by introducing legislation banning airlines from imposing a carbon tax. Several countries, including the United States, reportedly, support China’s position and may follow suit in introducing their own measures against the airline tax.
2. EU’s proposed sanctions against Iran. In response, Iran has suspended export of crude to French and United Kingdom and has threatened to suspend supply to several other European nations. It is simultaneously negotiating a contract to increase export of crude to China, as reported here. According to reports, France and the United Kingdom are not concerned. Not only do they claim to have sufficient reserves, but also the two countries recently inked a new civil nuclear energy pact as part of their energy cooperation efforts.
3. Another proposed action aims to include tar sands oil within EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), which was passed by the EU as part of its climate and energy strategy in 2008 and which requires suppliers of oil and gas fuel to the transport sector to reduce their emissions by 10% by 2020, as explained here. Based on a report that the extraction from tar sands is highly polluting because of high CO2 emissions, the European Commission has voted to include oil from the tar sands in the FQD. Even though Canada does not import oil to the EU, it fears that the inclusion can have indirect repercussions on its tar sands industry, as reported here. Pending vote by individual European nations, Canada is reportedly threatening to file a complaint before the World Trade Organization if the tar sand oil is included in the FQD.
Despite objections from different groups, EU’s measures may eventually have a larger impact on the energy landscape. In its attempt to help create a robust carbon market, it may eventually provide much desired incentive to invest in emissions reduction measure. That is, of course, unless nations who are not Party to the Kyoto Protocol or who have withdrawn from the next commitment period, notably China and Canada respectively, cooperate. Either way, it is worth watching Europe maneuver the energy market and the response of countries affected. What is emerging is a patchwork of subtle legal challenges that can nevertheless change the landscape of global energy production, supply, and consumption, as well as the future prospects of negotiating a meaningful climate treaty.
Two Great E.L. Opportunities in China: Visiting Professorships and (Free!) Graduate Degrees at Ocean University
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I’m teaching at Ocean University of China this year as a Fulbright Scholar. Ocean University is one of the nation’s key comprehensive universities with a special expertise in marine sciences and coastal zone management. It also has a strong School of Law and Political Science--and unlike most Chinese universities, a serious environmental law program. It is also in one of the most beautiful cities in China--the ocean resort town of Qingdao, girded by the tallest coastal mountains in all of China. In short, an excellent place to spend some quality time!
I’m writing this additional post to share news of two great opportunities there for environmental law students and faculty from beyond China: (1) the chance to learn about Chinese environmental law from the inside through a funded master's degree in environmental law, and (2) the opportunity to do the same by teaching a short course as a Visiting Professor. I hope that you will encourage potentially interested students to consider the degree program, and I seriously urge each of you to consider visiting Ocean University yourselves. Here's the 411:
1. Fully Funded Graduate Degrees in Environmental Law: As part of its mission to internationalize the program, Ocean University has received a national grant to host a series of international students for (free!!) graduate education in Environmental and Natural Resources Law. It’s an amazing opportunity for students interested in international/Asian environmental law—basically, a fully-funded 2- or 3-year graduate degree. The grant covers tuition, housing, insurance, living expenses, and domestic travel expenses, so the only cost to applicants is international airfare.
The program was recently established, but the application deadline is March 31. So far, there are still some openings, but applicants should act fast. You can find the official description with more information on how to apply here (scroll down for the English translation).
2. Call for Applications for Visiting Environmental Law Professors: The School of Law and Political Science is also inviting applications for visiting professors in the field of Environmental Law for Fall 2012. Visitors will teach one 2-credit course (30-32 credit hours) and offer at least one open lecture in their field of expertise during at least one month spent on campus. The university will cover the costs of international transportation and health insurance, provide a free apartment on campus, assistance with the visa process, and a monthly stipend of 4000 RMB (@ $700 U.S.) to cover in-country living expenses.
You can find more information about the program and specific application instructions here. Selections for the fall semester will be made before the end of May.
Finally, as yet another reminder of the tragic loss of our dear friend Svitlana Kravchenko this month, there is a new opening available during the Spring 2012 semester (which begins next week and extends through July). New applications are welcome.
My undergraduate college, the small, public liberal arts University of Montevallo, has embarked on a variety of exciting scientific projects, not the least of which is its new James Wylie Shepherd Observatory Complex (seen in the background of the image to the right). Piling innovation upon innovation, the observatory recently installed eight solar panels that will generate enough electricity to offset all energy use at the facility. The project "also includes the installation of an 800-gallon rainwater collection and purification system to serve as the primary water supply for the JWSO, and the phytoremediation of the soil using sunflowers and other suitable plants to extract a variety of pollutants." Furthermore, "the landscaping will showcase drought-resistant plant life indigenous to Alabama, and will include an area for fruit trees to benefit visitors to the site. The restrooms will feature self-composting toilets . . . ." The project was funded by the University of Montevallo Sustainability Committee, the UM Green Fund, the Student Government Association, and Legacy, Inc. (an environmental education corporation). When my day is so often filled with frustration over the state of the environment, I was excited to see that during such difficult economic times a small public college (often the first to receive budget cuts during economic downturns) remains committed to renewable energy and environmental responsibility. While the Solyndra's of the world may get all of the attention, small but significant steps are being made to promote and shift toward renewable energy all over the country - especially at educational institutions.
Carnegie Mellon University is currently in the midst of a three-week "Campus Conservation Nationals" (CCN) competition. The competition is the "first national competition aimed at motivating college students to reduce electricity and water consumption on their campuses." Carnegie Mellon has used the opportunity to organize a competition amongst dorms on campus to reduce energy usage, even establishing a website where students can check real-time electricity usage data. In the spirit of the X-prize, these types of events can harness the often irresponsible inspiring competitive spirit of college-age students to achieve positive environmental results.
K-12 educational institutions are getting in on the competitive approach to energy efficiency as well, saving energy as well as teaching children the value of renewable energy. In the U.S., these institutions spend over $8 billion a year on energy. The four week long Green Cup Challenge, which involves 116 schools across 22 states, has caused at least one school to cut its electricity consumption by 17% through "simple changes in behavior," such as changes to thermostats, shutting off computer monitors and lamps, installing skylights, and using timers on lighting systems. Other schools "have used the Green Cup Challenge to promote investments in renewable energy and efficiency projects that may have not been possible without the support of the Green Schools Alliance." As an example,
"After installing a number of energy efficient technologies, including a solar PV system, a 'bird-friendly' wind turbine, green roofs, and changing other energy habits, the Latin School of Chicago has seen a savings of $45,000 a year on their energy bills, and is expected to pay off its initial investment in less than 10 years."
So while presidential candidates wax idiotic poetic about environmental conspiracies and hoaxes, and think tanks engage in misinformation campaigns aimed at children in elementary schools, it is encouraging to see that our most important institutions of learning are not buying it. Even though students may continue to increase their consumption of energy drinks, it's great to see them cutting back on energy where it matters.
- Blake Hudson
I’m delighted to be joining the Environmental Law Prof Blog as a contributing editor. This year, I’ll be blogging about my environmental experiences in China, where I’m spending 2011-12 as a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at Zhongguo Haiyang Daxue (Ocean University of China). I am teaching a full schedule of American law courses while researching Chinese environmental governance, joined by my husband, 4-year old son, and 73-year-old mother. In our small two-bedroom apartment, we live like a typical Chinese family, with three generations and an only child.
To be sure, the living is not always easy—but perhaps our most important lesson of all will be to learn what it means to downsize from American consumption levels and live a little more like the rest of the world. (And this is a sobering lesson indeed.)
In light of our rich reservoir of experience here, my blogging will be less academic and more experiential—less about the fact that Beijing will finally begin monitoring air pollution at the 2.5 micron level, and more about how life changes when you are immersed in those particulates day after day. (For more academic reporting, see the excellent Chinese blog, China Environmental Law.) To summarize the overall sentiment of the series, anyone complaining about excessive environmental regulation in the U.S. really ought to spend a year living in China.
Better still, they should bring their young children or aging parents.
This first post provides some context for my series of through-the-looking-glass observations about what it’s like to plunge into China’s modern industrial revolution as an American environmental law professor. No amount of legal research could have prepared me for the differences in environmental perspective that I would encounter here (and even my undergraduate degree in Chinese language and culture falls short). So I hope that sharing these stories will help illuminate some of the cultural gaps we will inevitably encounter as Chinese and American partners work together to solve our global environmental challenges.
I thought I'd start by explaining a little bit about where many of these stories come from. We are fortunate to be living in the beautiful city of Qingdao, Shandong Province, which is on the coast of northeastern China across the Yellow Sea from South Korea. Qingdao is home to about seven million people—a small (!) city by Chinese standards. It is a wonderful place of disarmingly friendly people, complete with weather-worn mountains overlooking a peaceful sea. Home to several of China’s biggest brands and among the ten busiest commercial shipping ports in the world, Qingdao has won several awards for green development. And yes, it is where the famous Chinese beer comes from (“Tsingtao” is just a different Romanization for “Qingdao”!)
Ocean University is one of China's key comprehensive universities under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Education. It has about 30,000 students and faculty and ranks among the top 10% of universities nationwide. The law school has an especially dynamic environmental program, offering master's and doctoral degrees and hosting seven research institutes addressing marine law, coastal zone management, sustainable development, and other important topics. (Of note, the Law School is currently inviting applications from both students and faculty for some very intriguing programs of exchange--about which I've posted separately here.)
The Dean and faculty have been extremely welcoming, and the students are delightful. Teaching them is especially gratifying because they are so hungry for the kind of engaged and participatory teaching that we regularly use in American law schools. Most of them have never before been asked what they themselves think, or to work all the way through a doctrinal problem, or to question their instructors. It is truly a privilege to be part of this cross-cultural exchange, and I will always be grateful to both the China Fulbright Program and my hosts here at Ocean University for the opportunity.
Nevertheless, the challenges of living here—specifically, the environmental challenges—can be harrowing. In the next few months, I’ll blog about the experiences of living without clean air, potable water, or faith that products in the marketplace won’t make us sick. I'll write about the many ways that established environmental problems foster newer ones, like the consequences of poor public water quality on the ever-increasing stream of waste products to cope with it. I'll write about our palpable homesickness for the kind of government oversight we take for granted to protect us in circumstances ranging from pharmaceutical to pedestrian safety. (For all the chest-thumping in some American circles about the perils of socialism, China is a Tea Partier's dream in many respects—as far away from the Nanny State as most would ever wish to venture.)
Yet I’ll also write about the environmental realms in which the Chinese put Americans to shame—for example, the amazing public transportation system in cities like ours, which can be navigated cheaply and conveniently by bus at all hours (and has a subway system in the making). Or the full-scale embrace of alternative sources of energy, with a solar water heater on every roof. Or the national government’s commitment to price carbon on at least some level--a part of the new Five Year Plan beginning experimentation in seven cities. Or the general willingness among most Chinese to make personal sacrifices for the greater good.
But since this is a blog and not a novel, I'll save my first tale for the next post--a story about how Colorado's Rocky Mountain Arsenal led to surprising insights among my Natural Resources Law students about their own experiences in China. Stay tuned!
February 20, 2012 in Air Quality, Asia, Climate Change, Energy, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Water Quality, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, February 19, 2012
- The American Energy Innovation Summit will be held in Washington D.C. between February 27 and 29, 2012. Top brass from government and industry are scheduled to speak at the event. Also, invited are top winners of America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Challenger. Curious to know who they are and what they are innovating? Details are available at http://energy.gov/science-innovation/innovation/americas-next-top-energy-innovator/americas-next-top-energy-innovator
- The DOE has requested $27.2 billion as part of the FY 2013 budget. Details, including allocation between different types of energy are available here.
- According to a recent study, wildfires cause 339,000 deaths per year globally.
- A study on lead levels in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina concludes that lead contamination above the federal standards in and around residential areas presents serious risks to the population, particularly children. The study notes that about 61% of residences are exposed to high contamination levels.
- Interested in reading and/or commenting on proposed regulations and other agency action, a list of proposals with due dates are available here.